Why it is now time for India to play Tibet and Taiwan cards against China

As the world unites against Beijing over the draconian security law it has imposed on Hong Kong, India has two potent diplomatic weapons in Tibet and Taiwan.

 |  4-minute read |   24-07-2020
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India and China did not share a land border until 1950. China’s military invasion of Tibet that year changed the geopolitical equation with India forever.

Tibet remains a festering sore between India and China. After India granted the Dalai Lama refuge in 1959, that sore has become an open wound. Every action China has subsequently taken, including the 1962 war and illegal annexation of Aksai Chin, has its roots in Beijing’s simmering anger over the Dalai Lama’s presence in India which constantly draws attention to China’s brutal occupation of Tibet.

Bitter history

Since 1962, Indian policymakers have been paralysed with the fear of alienating Beijing. The Dalai Lama is not allowed to make political statements as a condition for staying in India. Emboldened by Indian timidity, China issues periodic statements discrediting the Dalai Lama. Maintaining a diplomatic silence on Tibet hasn’t appeased the Chinese. It has encouraged them to claim Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet. China routinely objects to the Dalai Lama travelling to Arunachal.

main_tibet-taiwan_072420103228.jpgIndia has two potent diplomatic weapons in Taiwan and Tibet.

Just as India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru misread China in the 1950s, Prime Minister Narendra Modi misread China in his first term. China respects strength. It treats weakness with contempt. India’s appeasement diplomacy is seen as a weakness that Beijing exploits ruthlessly.

Chinese incursions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) are part of Beijing’s strategy to test India’s resolve. In the past, successive Indian governments have quietly accepted China’s salami-slicing of India’s border areas so as to not risk a confrontation with Beijing. That is exactly the reaction China expected.

Galwan on June 15, 2020, changed the India-China dynamic forever. The fierce battle on narrow ridges between Indian troops and soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), resulting in fatalities on both sides, made Beijing reassess India’s intent. India’s current build-up along the LAC of over 40,000 troops, attack helicopters, air defence systems, battle tanks and fighter jets is the first time New Delhi has telegraphed a warning to China: India is prepared for war.

China has absorbed the message but is not entirely convinced whether, when push comes to shove, India will fight. And yet, the Chinese are pragmatists. They have withdrawn from the Galwan Valley, Hot Springs, Gogra and the mountain spur Finger 4 but retain troops on the ridgelines of Finger 4. Semi-permanent structures from Fingers 5-8 remain intact. Beijing hasn’t finished testing the resolve of Indian policymakers. The strategy is to keep talks going every fortnight between the corps commanders while a troop buildup by the PLA in Depsang and Arunachal Pradesh continues.

China is a toxic power. Its closest allies are rogue nations: Pakistan, North Korea and Iran. It does not obey global rules and has refused to abide by the 2016 verdict against it by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) that found in favour of the Philippines on Beijing’s transgressions in the South China Sea.

Blindsiding tactics

China for decades hid its real intentions with India, lulling Indian negotiators with over 22 rounds of fruitless boundary talks. China has now dropped the pretence of peaceful negotiations. It is time India dropped its 60-year-old policy of appeasing China.

Start with Tibet. End the defensive approach to the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala. Encourage it to oppose the harsh regime China has put in place in in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) which in practice enjoys no autonomy.

Tibet is China’s second-most sensitive issue. Taiwan is the first. China has bullied India into silence over the One-China policy which accepts Taiwan as an inseparable part of China. Does China reciprocate by accepting the One-India policy – including Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin? It does the exact opposite.

Taiwan’s importance

At every forum and at every opportunity, China condones and protects Pakistan’s state sponsorship of terrorism in J&K. For India to remain ambivalent on the One-China policy is no longer tenable. It never was but if Modi wants to safeguard India’s long-term national interest, he must bite the bullet on both Tibet and Taiwan. They are China’s two blind spots.

India needs to urgently increase trade with Taiwan. Three of the largest contractors for Apple iPhones — Foxconn, Winstron and Pegatron — are expanding their production facilities for iPhones in India. All three are Taiwanese. The imperative for trade and investment with Taiwan has never been greater.

As the world unites against Beijing over the draconian security law it has imposed on Hong Kong, India has two potent diplomatic weapons in Tibet and Taiwan. If deployed without needless paranoia over Chinese reprisals, they can be a powerful tool in conjunction with the offensive military posture India has rightly adopted along the LAC.

That posture has given China reason to pause. It has withdrawn partially along the friction points along the LAC while it assesses India’s intent. In a limited conflict on mountainous terrain, the PLA holds no fear for India’s armed forces. The paranoia resides only in the minds of India’s policymakers, embedded there since 1962.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Why Hong Kong matters to China

Writer

Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

The writer is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. He is a media group chairman and editor. He is the author of The New Clash of Civilizations

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